Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

2 Corinthians 3: 17

Freedom is not always easy to accept, and living in its fullest expression is even more challenging for most people. The challenge of freedom might be found, in part, in the fact that everyone is born into its opposite state. That is, we all come into this world enslaved to sin and owned by Satan. That is hard to envision when a baby is new born, but after a few months and certainly by the age of two or so, the self-centered and often uncontrollably angry person that is inside the cute beauty of the baby begins to demonstrate itself in mighty outbursts and unceasing demands for her or his way. As adults we care for and love these little ones regardless of how they might be acting, and in time, they mature and learn to control and to moderate their expressions of want and need. They also grow into people who can give love and provide guidance to others who are not as far along in their developmental journey.

The Lord does much the same sort of thing with us. We are born sinners, and we stay in that state of deadness and remain separated from God’s full presence until we relent to Christ’s unceasing pursuit of us and surrender our being to Him. When this happens, something far greater than simple membership is given to us, for we are not just granted access to an eternal existence with Christ in Heaven, great as that gift is, in fact, but we are also given the gift of the presence of the Spirit within us from that moment of acceptance onward. We are set free from that state of enslavement to Satan that was our form of being from birth. However, most of us are challenged by what it actually means to live in the complete and total expression of that freedom. It is a state of being that we do not know how to enjoy and that we are not yet mature enough in Christ to grasp onto and to live out in all aspects of our lives.

That is where the presence of the Spirit within us becomes especially important, for He provides love, care, support, guidance, and discipline to our still formative new selves in Christ. The Spirit takes us into God’s Word and provides us with understanding of its meaning and with the wisdom to apply those truths to the situations and circumstances that we encounter in life. The Spirit provides us with a form of strength that is deeper and more durable than anything that we have been able to develop on our own, and He also brings the power of eternity to bear upon the obstacles and challenges that we face as we seek to follow Christ’s calling for us. Over time we are grown up and matured by the Spirit in our ability to dwell more and more fully in the way of Christ. This growth process is accelerated as we yield to the Spirit and surrender ourselves ever more fully to His work within us. So, as we become ever more Christ-like in the ways that we think, speak, and act, we gain freedom, and freedom finds its expression in an increase in our faith in the working of Christ is our world and in the expressions of the presence of the Spirit through the full exercise of the spiritual gifts that we have been given by God. 

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4: 16

People around the world celebrate the rolling over of the calendar at the end of the current year and the beginning of the new one. We look ahead with anticipation and with hope that things will get better than they have been in the prior twelve months. This change suggests a new beginning, a fresh start, and a reset for some of life’s ledgers that record our wrongs, shortcomings, and failures. Yet, in all of this effort and planning that is focused around refreshing life, there is one calendar, a singular clock that is never set back and that moves forward with relentless pace and purpose, for in the real world, no one gets even a second younger or a day less aged when the new year tolls its entry. Every day that we live in one more to mark off the allotment of days that we have received. Each year that goes by will contain events, situations, and circumstances that have a negative impact on the probable longevity of our lives. This was one of the two primary subjects that Paul is bringing up here.

Paul knew physical and emotional stress as he had experienced them in great and powerful ways and on numerous occasions. His body had to be a bit worn and often a lot tired as a result of the life that he was living in serving Christ with true diligence in a world that was mostly hostile to that message and to its author. The Apostle was fully acquainted with the hardships of travel, he had experienced shipwrecks and been arrested and locked away in jail, he was forced to flee from angry mobs, and he had been mocked and rejected. The lines of care must have been deep on his weathered skin, and the spring surely had gone from his step. Yet, his passion for the Gospel of Christ and his zeal for proclaiming its life-giving truth had not grown any less powerful. He continued to love people and to speak forth Christ until the very end of his life on this earth. I can envision Paul during those later days with his body battered and bruised and with aching joints as he went to the Lord in prayer regularly while continuing to repent for the sinfulness in his own life and seeking out wisdom and counsel for following Christ along the path that was to be his during the day to come. 

The Spirit was present with Paul just as He is with each and every one of us who know Christ. As we yield ourselves to the Spirit, He brings us the cleansing of God’s grace, the fresh water of God’s truth, encouragement for our spirits, and wisdom to renew our hearts and minds. The Spirit’s work within and upon us does what it did for Paul, it sets us back upright when we are knocked down, and it gives us the courage and the strength that we need to continue on Christ’s righteous path of engagement with our world. The Spirit also points our hearts and minds to the reality of that journey, for Christ takes us into the realm of the spiritual and reframes all of life within the bounds of God’s kingdom come to this world. So, this is the other subject that Paul is discussing. We live in a world that is hostile to the spirit of truth, justice, righteousness, and love that is the essence of God’s realm.  In serving Christ we are breathing in conflict; so, we will experience the abrasive and harsh impacts of those encounters in our bodies, minds, and hearts. This is where the Spirit also works as He brings peace to troubled days, grants rest when the nights are long, and provides shelter when the heart is weary and in need of time to regroup and recover. This life will be hard and its challenges are going to be continuous and grueling, but the Spirit of Christ is more than sufficient to take each of us through it all so that even when the body is broken down and the heart is feeling overwhelmed it is His strength that enables activity and His love that fuels the spirit into living out Christ’s will for this day.     

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.

Mark 7: 8

During the Christmas season people are often focused on Jesus’ humble start to life on earth when He was a baby. We like to contemplate the reality of a God who would join with His creation in a manner such as this, and it is comforting to know that every aspect of growing up that we went through and that we endured is something similar to what Jesus knew, as well. As much as we may enjoy this meek and mild image of Jesus, He did not always think and act in this manner. In fact, the Lord had a great capacity for telling truth in very strong and stern terms, and He also had no fear regarding who He might offend or turn against Him when He did this. In this instance, Jesus is confronting His on-going foes in the Pharisees; however, these same words might be said to many other people over all of history. Although it may not be quite as obvious in its expression today, it does seem that we continue to act in this same manner on a regular basis.

We have allowed our own ways of doing things in this world to take precedence over God’s law of love, grace, reconciliation, and peace making. This is stated as a blanket condemnation, and I mean it as such. I do not live as God has commanded me to live, and I know and observe very few others who function differently. All that is necessary in order to start to see the application of this sad fact is to turn on a television, open a computer, or walk out your front door and travel a short distance into almost any community on earth. We live in an angry and a selfish world. We care more for our own minor rights and privileges than we do for the life of another person. We are caught up in protecting our turf when we have far more of it than we can even manage while others in our world are starving, being physically and emotionally harmed, and are being denied the basic necessities of life. I fear that Jesus would see all of this much as He saw the actions of the Pharisees.

Everything that we protect and cling to with ultimate tenacity is something that God has given to us out of the abundance of His love, care, and provision. So, why is it that we hold on with a death grip to tangible and to intellectual things that God gifted to us with open hands? We need to understand that all of God’s commandments predate any of our rights of possession and that God has given everything to us so that we could be good and loyal caretakers of the rest of creation. We are not here to be full and self-satisfied; rather, Christ calls upon us to follow him by giving away what we have been given, loving others even when they are hard to understand and even more difficult to embrace, and by calming violence instead of promoting it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a statement of God’s love for people, and this is the commandment that holds precedence over any and all other laws, rules, or concepts and traditions that people might attempt to establish and follow. In Christ, we are called to bring reconciliation not division, and as we follow Christ, we will turn from everything that is contrary to God’s will and be willing to sacrifice all in order to bring the touch of our Lord’s love, grace, and mercy to our needy world.      

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

Ephesians 1: 3

 

It is amazing, totally remarkable, and almost beyond my understanding that God, the Creator and the Ruler of the entire universe, would be so interested in me that He would grant to me a gift such as this. As magical and special as many of the gifts that I have received during my life have been, none of them starts to compare with the gift of relationship with Him that the Lord has handed to me. Yet, as extraordinary as that is, there is much more, for the Spirit of God opens the eyes of my heart to a new dimension of life that is also mine through my acceptance of Christ.

 

God has changed me from being spiritually dead to being fully engaged with the totality of His realm. I do not understand all that is of God or see everything that God sees, for His knowledge and understanding go far beyond my capacity and the Lord doesn’t need to or choose to reveal everything that is happening in the dimension of spirit to me. Still, in Christ, heaven has come to live in me, and my perspective on my world can now be a heavenly one. God grants to me the gift of His insight, wisdom, understanding, compassion, mercy, and love; and He tells me to bless Him by living in a different manner than people who don’t know Him.

 

You see, it strikes me that God wants me and all of His own people to live each day like we are, in fact, living in a heavenly place. God gives us a picture of what that looks like in the way that Jesus lived His life on earth, and Christ says that He wants us to follow Him. We need to take the view and the vision of life that we have gained due to our spiritual awareness and live in a manner that clearly demonstrates that we are different. The difference that God wants me to bring into this world is not one that is expressed in a superior air of separation; rather, the Lord wants the people that I touch to know that they have been touched by heaven.

 

Godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment.

1 Timothy 6: 6

When considering the state of my personal fortune, it seems important for me to check the right ledger for my true account balances. During my life, I have put a lot of energy into growing my income, building up my worth, and caring greatly about the things that I own. Unfortunately, most of this has had little lasting positive effect, and there have been a number of negative ones. Earning a living, even earning a good living is fine in God’s eyes. After all, He designed us with a drive to do so, and He is the provider of all of the aspects of our ability to work, our drive to succeed, and the need for gainful employment. It’s my attitude toward all of this that matters.

From the Lord’s perspective, the ledgers and the accounts that matter are covered with attitudes, spiritual growth, and healing. As Christ invested totally in people and in their relationships with God, so we are called to do the same. Gain in our world is an interestingly elusive thing. One day we can be substantially ahead of where we were; then, suddenly, it can all disappear. When our investments are in people, a really similar thing can happen, for some people just stop responding or they turn to follow a different voice. So, this is why contentment is vital in this form of investment. The contentment that God wants us to enjoy doesn’t come from what we accomplish or from how good we are at the task; rather, it comes from the growth in our personal relationships with God that comes through these efforts.

There is great gain to be had from following Christ, and some of it may even be financial. However, God promises us that we will receive a form of riches and wealth that is beyond the levels of our most aggressive investment plans if we do truly follow Him. The Lord asks us to trust Him with all that we have. That is all of our time, money, assets, ego, fears and concerns, inhibitions, lack of training, fear of rejection, and anything else that stops us from investing in making Christ more real in our world. When we commit and enter in fully to God’s investment plan, the Lord of the Universe promises that He will bring us gain beyond our ability to dream, and a form of contentment for our souls that defies all human logic and reason.

But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

John 3: 21

 

Black and white form a stark contrast when they are placed next to each other, for they are strikingly different and obviously so. Patterns painted in these two colors are easy to identify and relatively easy to paint as the black will always cover over the white. Yet, outside of paint schemes and Harlequin makeup, most of the world where we live is not so easily discerned. Black bleeds into white and grey is formed, and some greys are light and wispy like soft clouds, and some are dark and ominous like a rain storm that is ready to let loose.

 

Jesus is telling us that it isn’t so much the color that we are painted that matters; rather, it is the way that we choose to go that counts. There is true light and dark in our world, but this can be challenging since we people, by nature, are big on defining and determining right and wrong based upon our own needs, wants, and desires; thus, we often start to try to paint over our world with our cans of black and white paint. We spray the things that we want to be good and acceptable with our can of white, and we coat the things that we view as bad, wrong, or inconvenient with the black. Unfortunately, we often cover people with our spayed on values. When we are in the midst of tagging our world, we aren’t following Christ’s way of grace that creates movement toward reconciliation.

 

God gives us the true light in a darkened world. He provided us with its perfect living source in Jesus, and He continues to bring light to us through the presence of His Spirit. When we hear the safety briefing on an airplane, we are always told about the string of lights that are set into the center aisle to lead us to safety if something really bad happens. I can tell you with all sincerity that I have no desire to ever use those lights. In a world that is suffocating in confusion and deception, Christ provides an illuminated pathway to safety that is much clearer and more certain than the plane’s ribbon of lights. He gives us the eternally bright truth of His Word, the brilliance of His people, and the leading of His Spirit to direct our steps to safety and to strength. Move toward and into the light and the glory of God will surround you; live in truth and the brilliance of the Lord will radiate from you.

 

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Romans 12: 11

 

Romans is not the place where I would look in order to find proverbs, those short and pointed little statements about living that can be used as signs on a wall or as quotes at the bottom of a page. Yet, here is one tucked into Paul’s great theological work. As Paul is summarizing the nature and the character of followers of Christ, he mixes in this statement about the attitude and the approach that he is directing us to hold as we prosecute the journey of our Lord’s calling. In so doing he sets out the image of the sloth as the opposite one to the way that we should enter into our engagement with our world. The sloth is slow moving and very careful. It could never be accused of rushing into anything. They prefer hanging around in a safe place and observing it all, for a very long time. Then, they act with great care and deliberation.

 

Paul is saying that Christ should make a real difference in our willingness to take risks and to engage with whatever life sets before us. He grants a form of security to His followers that penetrates deep into the soul and that frees us to speak the Gospel of Christ and to live out His love without counting the personal cost first. This counter sloth-like living is propelled forward by a passion for Christ that exists deep inside at the level of our inner most drives and desires. Passion can be hard to sustain, but the one that comes forth from a relationship with the Lord is different. It is not based upon rapidly consumed emotions or upon shallow and momentary excitement; instead, this passion for the Lord is driven and inspired by Christ Himself as He directs and leads His people into lives that demonstrate His truth, grace, love, and righteousness in every aspect of life and of living.

 

This active and passionate life is a picture of what it is like to serve the Lord. There are certainly other quieter and more contemplative aspects to a life of service to God and within His kingdom, but action and the freedom to engage in it are clearly something that Jesus demonstrated and that Christ calls us to engage in. Following Christ means that we will go to those places and encounter the people and situations that He did, and His Spirit does guide and direct us along those same harsh and troubles streets. These real life moments of challenge, confrontation, and of coming face to face with spiritual opposition are exactly what Christ equips His people for and are times for us to enter in faith into living in total reliance upon Christ. This is the sort of service that our Lord desires, and this is the way of life that brings us ever closer to a full knowledge of God.

But I with the voice of thanksgiving

will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the LORD!

Jonah 2: 9

 

This is the final statement from Jonah’s fish-bound cry to the Lord for mercy and for saving. These are the words of his foxhole prayer or his deathbed confession of faith as the rhythmic beating of the grim angel’s wings is filling his ears with the reality of eternity. We also know that Jonah did not really do very well in following through with the commitment that he is expressing at this moment. Yet, even with his weaknesses, his conditional performance of God’s will, and the fact that God already knew who Jonah was and how he would respond to God’s calling for his life, the Lord was faithful to save our fishy friend and to continue to send him out to do God’s work in their world. Jonah has always been a very personal biblical character to me, and his words of repentance and commitment ring as true in ways that speak to my heart.

 

When I look at the life that I have and consider the many steps of that journey, I can readily see God’s hand at work in so many of them. In days of blessing and in those where trials were the theme He has been present. I have not always been willing to listen to His voice, and my heart has certainly not been consistently true. Yet, from the perspective of this place in my life, the most consistent and tangible influence, guiding force, and protective covering that I observe is what the Lord has provided. So, God does ask for me to sacrifice to Him. He continues to make these demands upon me to this day. The Lord wants me to give all that I have and all that I am to Him without reservation, holdback, or conditions. Christ gave beyond the measure of human comprehension to save me, and He desires for me to trust Him with control over the rest of my days.

 

This life of surrender and submission to Christ is the one that stays true to the calling of His cross upon me. There is pain in this journey, and there will be losses to accept that will be hard to endure, However, there is also peace to be found in the process of traveling in close proximity to Christ’s will, and real joy is encountered when my Lord works through my hands to bring others into the knowledge of His saving grace. For Jonah the Lord’s salvation was tangible and real, but the important work of saving was still to come by virtue of what Jonah did with his knowledge and experience of God’s grace, mercy, and love. I can look back over my life and appreciate the Lord’s presence and gracious work with words of thanksgiving, but my Lord desires for me to express myself by my actions and in my open declaration of His love, grace, mercy, and peace. Christ has saved me and set me free to serve Him, and my life belongs to the Lord!

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1: 1

 

The apostle Peter wanted the people in the churches that he had taught and shepherded to understand some fundamental truths about their faith in Jesus Christ. So, he starts off with one piece of truth that mattered greatly to him. Regardless of Peter’s position of leadership and the authority that came with it, he was not superior to the people that he was addressing in the letter. Peter had traveled and lived with Jesus and was there to the end and beyond; yet, that granted him no greater standing in the church than had someone who had just come to faith in the Savior. The body of Christ and His church is a place in this world where absolute equality should be the order of the day.

 

In God’s eyes we are all on the same plane as Peter in that we are all sinners, lost and desperately without hope of eternity without Christ. We are born with hearts and minds that operate out of a form of darkness that penetrates to the core of our being, and we live in total separation from the righteousness, justice, and love that are the center of the character of God. As all are born equally into death, so also, are all who come to Christ reborn equally into the fullness of life in the here and now of God’s Kingdom come and they possess equal standing as adopted children of God in the eternity to follow this life. This total transformation comes about solely because of the work of Jesus Christ, the righteous and holy One, who claims us as His own.

 

This equality in status and stature carries with it an equal measure of responsibility. Like Peter before us, we are also tasked by Christ to live righteously in our fallen world, and we are called upon to bring the healing of God’s grace into the lives of everyone we encounter during our days. In fact, living in true equality with Peter is not something that the faint of heart can do, for following Christ fully requires courage and boldness. It sets us apart from the majority of the people in our world as it leads us into conflict and dispute with the forces of evil that are attempting to hold onto the heart, mind, and soul of our culture. Yet, like the Apostle before us, Christ fully equips us for the day at hand, and He goes with us with wisdom and grace that are more than sufficient to claim today for Christ as we proclaim it to be the day of the Lord!

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

John 12: 26

 

It is true that Jesus wanted people to follow Him. Yet, the place that He was going was not clear to the people who heard Him say these words. That lack of understanding was not Jesus’ fault, for He had been talking and teaching about the Father’s plan for what was to be required of Jesus for some time. The disciples just weren’t ready to listen and to truly hear. Yet, at this moment in the journey that God had set the Christ upon, in the little town of Bethsaida just a few miles from Jerusalem and the mount called Golgotha, Jesus says to those who are with Him, “follow me.”

 

These same words echo into our day and over our lives. Jesus speaks to each and everyone of us who respond to His gift of grace, love, and restoration and says the same thing to us. We are to follow. That is not an easy road. It is not a path that is paved with comfort and with universal acceptance. In fact, it seems that in today’s world, acceptance and cultural prominence are far removed from the experience of the Christian life. Perhaps that is actually a good thing, for rejection and animosity are the road that Christ walked. As we encounter this response in our daily lives, we just might be stepping into the footprints of our Lord.

 

So, travel along a path where crowds of adulation and acceptance have suddenly turned into disrespectful and unaccepting nations of skeptics, as seems to be the case in our western cultures, leads me to seek out Christ for His responses to these same experiences. He responded to the world’s anger and aggressive rejection with sadness at their lost condition, with grace and love, and with the diligent and unstoppable zeal of the shepherd who seeks to bring the one lost sheep home to life. This is how I believe that Christ is telling me to respond to my world. This sort of uncompromising love and grace is the result of following Christ all the way to that cross of absolute sacrifice and shame where all of myself is left behind and all of Christ becomes who I am.